11
May
15

The Fever

 

The Fever

A to Z Theatre

West End Markets Warehouse

May 8 – 17 2015

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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You might not recognise the name but you’ll certainly remember Wallace Shawn’s presence in Vanya on 42nd Street and The Princess Bride – brilliant! Also a brilliant writer, Shawn has been performing his extended monologue, The Fever, since 1990.

 

Zac Boulton has brought it to vivid life in a most amusing and disturbing way for Anywhere Theatre Festival.

 

 

While visiting a poverty-stricken country far from home, the unnamed narrator of The Fever is forced to witness the political persecution occurring just beyond a hotel window. In examining a life of comfort and relative privilege, the narrator reveals, “I always say to my friends, We should be glad to be alive. We should celebrate life. We should understand that life is wonderful.” But how does one celebrate life—take pleasure in beauty, for instance—while slowly becoming aware that the poverty and oppression of other human beings are a direct consequence of one’s own pleasurable life?

 

There’s a new breed of performer emerging in Queensland and I’m gonna’ give a shout out to the agency who represents a few of them because people often ask us who they should approach about management. BMEG’s Directors, Rowena Mohr and Mary-Ann Vale, must have recognised a little while ago what we’re seeing now on stage and screen. Some of the names on their books include Dash Kruck, Emily Burton, Amy Ingram, Erica Field, Cienda McNamara, Lizzie Moore, Sam Plummer and The Fever’s Zac Boulton…performers with an entirely different energy, who each have a very real sense of leaping, whole body and voice and heart and head and soul, into a role.

 

(If you’re a performer with an industry referral you can contact BMEG here).

 

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Zac Boulton’s performance of The Fever, Wallace Shawn’s detailed and dynamic text, is intense and excellent.

 

 

It’s physically, vocally and emotionally demanding, challenging the actor firstly to seduce us and gain our trust, which he does by making direct eye contact and introducing us to the imagined insects in the room, and then to hold our attention and entertain us for a full 75 minutes. Around the three-quarter mark it becomes difficult to stay focused. Perhaps the piece is 10-15 minutes too long. Perhaps it’s early onset Festival Fatigue.

 

Boulton has worked closely with Director, Anatoly Frusin, to create a whole world within a room, a West End space I hadn’t known existed. The performance space is literally a black box with a string of fairy lights, a couple of strategically placed reading lamps, a table and a ceiling painted, like Mr Plumbean’s house, with brightly coloured figments of someone else’s imagination. There’s an octopus and a red and white circus tent… I forget to keep looking for anything else. It’s a good find, a building almost hidden behind food stalls in the Boundary Street Markets, like a poor man’s Metro Arts. It’s the perfect space for this feverish and at times very funny one-man show.

 

Look at yourself. Look. You walk so stiffly in your kitchen each morning, you approach your cupboard. You open it, and reach for the coffee, the coffee you expect to find on its shelf. And it has to be there. And if one morning it isn’t there—oh, the hysteria!—the entire world will have to pay! At the very thought of the unexpected, the unexpected deprivation, you begin to twitch, to panic, to pant. The shortness of breath! Listen to your voice on the telephone, listen to the tone that comes into your voice when you talk to one of your very close friends and you talk about your life and you use those expressions—”what I need to live on . . .”—”the amount I need . . .”—solemn, quiet, no histrionics—the tone of hysteria, the tone of the fanatic—well, yes—of course—it makes sense. You understand your situation. Without a place to live, without clothes, without money, you would be like them, you would be them, you would be what they are—you would be the homeless, you would be the comfortless. So of course, you know it, you will do anything. There are no limits to what you will do. Without the money, your face would become the face of a rat, your hands would be paws—sharp, nimble, ready to scratch, ready to tear.”

 

Unsettling much?

 

To experience this show is to step inside the dark, gritty picture painted by Wallace’s words, which come so fast at times from Boulton’s lips that I notice I’m not the only one leaning forward in my seat to catch them. This is a precarious act of commitment to the performance, considering we’re sitting on bar stools in the back row, like late-night gatecrashers to a private party at a random inner city dingy and unidentified location, probs because every other venue in the vicinity applied lockout at 3am. There’s an alluring sense of secrecy and mystery and possible lowbrow criminal activity, as if the regulars at that inner city bar party have suddenly procured drugs to convince us to stay… Well, haven’t you ever accidentally walked into a place you know you shouldn’t be in? I almost feel like I’m still listening to Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe. Yeah. You know it. Some similar moral and ethical questions there. A bit scary. Scary road trip/travelling listening, ideal for late night home to the Sunshine Coast drives through infuriatingly frequent (STILL) roadworks. Not. At. All.

 

Boulton’s physicality is bold and very disciplined, allowing us to see him sitting in a chair when there is not one beneath him. His use of a single table – upside down, sideways, back to front and right side up – provides almost all the settings required to tell his tale (a portion of wall and a change in lighting states provide yet another). Frusin’s hand in all of this, I suspect, has been light and sure.

 

We can actually envisage the blood in the streets, the sweat, the stench, the immense suffering on a daily basis, and what are we thinking? Well, you know, I sponsor a child, I click to donate, I support the bake sale to raise funds for African orphanages, I buy Fairtrade tea, I post via Instagram a picture of me wearing my slippers/white shirt/whatever it is to support a worthy cause this month…. WOW. How pathetic am I???

 

Sympathy for the poor does not change the life of the poor…

 

And artists who create works of art that inspire sympathy and good values don’t change the life of the poor.

 

The Fever is 75 minutes of intravenous Viagra. It forces us to take a good hard look at how we conduct ourselves every day. What choices are we making and how do those choices affect the lives and wellbeing of others? You might not want to think about it for too long. Except you have to. You can’t walk out the door and down the stairs and shrug off this stuff!

 

The ending is not necessarily satisfactory – let’s say if you hadn’t considered your behaviour before you came in, you will do on the way out – and there’s a little bit of hard work involved, in terms of staying focused on the big issues for over an hour, but it’s a compelling performance with enough lighter moments to break up the tough stuff (only there are times when you’ll wonder whether or not it’s appropriate to laugh out loud!).

 

Don’t let a little bit of hard work discourage you from seeking out this seriously confronting, extremely physical and beautifully self-assured solo performance by one of Queensland’s most exciting and ambitious actors.

 

 

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